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Fitness & Health

28th May 2019

Bruce Lee’s workout routine and diet plan revealed in new book

Over 45 years since his passing, new light is shed on Bruce Lee's workout and nutrition plan in a book written by Matthew Polly

Alex Roberts

Bruce Lee

Over 45 years since his passing, a new book revisits one of the most enigmatic actors and martial artists of all time

Author Matthew Polly digs deep into all aspects of Bruce Lee’s life – and that includes his approach to training and nutrition.

Bruce Lee died in 1973, long before YouTube, Instagram and mainstream fitness media came into existence. This means there hasn’t been much published into Lee’s gym work and nutrition, outside of the obvious fight scenes in films such as Enter The Dragon.

Writing in his new book Bruce Lee: A Life, Polly sheds new light on Lee’s workout and nutrition plan. According to Polly, Lee was in fact the very first martial artist to train like a modern athlete.

Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon (1973)

Lee’s weightlifting outlook

Strength and conditioning wasn’t generally accepted when Lee was in his prime. Although it’s now commonplace for athletes to improve their game by hitting the gym, it wasn’t always like that.

Previously, if you wanted to get better at your sport, it was thought that you should just practice your sport more. So you’d never see footballers or rugby players bench pressing or squatting. They’d just be practising the line-out or sprinting down the touchline.

Lee was the first athlete to integrate outside gym work into his routine. According to Polly, Bruce Lee recognised that “strength and conditioning were crucial to becoming the ultimate fighter”.

In order to improve his endurance, Lee looked to boxing for training tips. He added skipping and road running into his regime, and ran four-to-five miles each morning.

Lee was also heavily invested in weight training. He lifted weights three nights a week, and in his garage, Polly writes that Lee had “installed an isometric machine, squat rack, bench press, dumbbells and grip machine for his forearms”.

Instead of lifting heavy, Lee lifted lighter weights for high reps

Two of his students, James Yimm Lee and Allen Joe, actually went on to become early bodybuilding enthusiasts, which is proof of how integral lifting weights was to Lee’s outlook.

It was every bit a lifestyle that Lee lived, and not just a hobby he dipped in and out of. According to Polly, “Even when he wasn’t officially training he was training. While watching TV, he curled dumbbells.”

This carried over into everyday life in more ways than one. Lee himself said “When I’m putting on my pants, I’m doing a balancing act”.

Such a gruelling training routine eventually took its toll on Lee, and he’d soon begin to experience muscle aches, soreness and exhaustion. To overcome this setback, Lee invested in an electrical muscle stimulator, the idea behind which he borrowed from a fitness coach with the LA Rams.

Bruce Lee in Way of the Dragon/Return of the Dragon (1972)Bruce Lee in Way of the Dragon/Return of the Dragon (1972)

Diet and supplement essentials

Bruce Lee believed diet played a crucial role in both preventing and curing illness. Polly writes that Lee “believed in the curative powers of ginseng and queen bee honey”.

He was also an early pioneer of the protein shake. Numerous times throughout the day, Lee would drink a high protein blend containing:

  • Rheo Blair Protein Powder
  • Iced water
  • Powdered milk
  • Eggs
  • Eggshells
  • Bananas
  • Vegetable oil
  • Peanut flour
  • Chocolate ice cream

Lee was known to invest a large amount of money in supplements, and also adopted unconventional attitudes to food. For instance, he would often blend entire raw hamburgers and drink the mix.

Lee would often blend raw beef burgers – and then drink the mix

Although you may assume that Lee ate and trained like this for performance only, he also did it for looks. “His passion may have been the martial arts but his profession was acting”, Polly says.

Lee never wanted to get bodybuilder-big, but instead trained to look lean and ripped. His student Allen Joe said “James and I were into heavy weight training, but Bruce went with lighter weights with higher repetitions.”

At the time, Hollywood was dominated by tall, white men, and Lee felt he needed to train extremely hard in order to muscle his way into lead roles. Lee’s regimented workout and diet plan helped him achieve this and shoot to stardom. His journey is arguably even more interesting than any of the fictional roles he played.

Bruce Lee: A Life is available at Simon & Schuster, priced at £10.99

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